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Oh, those Fabulous days of youth

DAVID SILVA

* Second of two parts.

“Bait? What do you mean ‘bait?’” Esteban asked. “That sounds

dangerous. Why do I have to be the bait?”

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The rest of us looked up at the sky, checked the knots in our

shoelaces, and did anything to avoid eye contact. No one wanted to

tell Esteban that as the shortest, pudgiest and prissiest of the five

of us, he was clearly the most, well, bait-like. But if he kept

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asking, one of us was going to have to.

It was our first mission as the Fabulous Fighters, and for a while

there, everything was proceeding according to my plans. When I had

asked Esteban to walk a few feet ahead of us, he happily assumed, as

I’d expected him to, that I was simply acknow- ledging his natural

status as leader of the band.

Then stupid Buck had to say the word “bait” in his typically loud

voice, and the jig was up, especially as he had said it in the

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context of “So, what are we gonna do when they start socking the

bait?”

“I’m slowing down,” Esteban said firmly, stopping in his tracks.

“I’m older than Little Greg, so he should be the bait.”

Buck walked up to me and said, “Seriously, what are we gonna do if

something happens?”

“Nothing’s gonna happen,” I said. “Who’s gonna try to mess with

five of us walking together? And besides, you’ve got those rocks in

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your pocket.”

And just as I was telling Buck not to be such a worrier, a big,

thuggish-looking kid stepped out of nowhere, walked right past Buck

and me, and threatened Esteban.

“Gimme your money, punk,” he demanded. “And don’t give me any

pennies or nickels -- I want folding money.”

Esteban’s eyes widened with terror, and he started looking around

at his fellow Fabulous Fighters for help. But suddenly we weren’t the

Fabulous Fighters anymore.

Suddenly we were a bunch of little kids who had the misfortune of

listening to one of my crazy ideas.

Esteban began to blubber. “I ... I ... don’t ha-have any m-m-money

... “

“Yeah, you do!” the goon shouted, stepping forward and grabbing

Esteban’s T-shirt by the collar. The guy was at least a foot taller

than me, and I was the tallest of my friends.

“Gimme your money!” he demanded again, shaking Esteban by the

collar.

“Let him go,” Buck said quietly.

The goon turned to Buck, his fist still gripping Esteban’s

T-shirt. “Oh yeah? Says who?”

“Says this rock in my hand,” Buck said, showing him the big,

pointy rock in his right fist. “Let him go.”

“Yeah, let him go,” I said at last. Buck’s sudden onslaught of

courage had jarred me out of my paralysis.

“Yeah, let him go, punk! We’re not afraid of you!” Little Greg

shouted, and made a sudden flurry of karate-chop gestures in the air.

The big kid looked from Greg to Buck and to me and started

laughing. This wasn’t the reaction any of us expected. For some

reason, our show of unity had utterly failed to impress him.

“Hey! What’s going on here?” an adult voice boomed.

An old man in a business suit walked past me and up to the big

kid. “Are you OK, kid?” He turned to my friends and me. “Leave this

poor kid alone, you creeps! Go on! Get out of here!”

Unbelievably, the man had seen the big kid standing in the middle

of the five of us, and assumed we were attacking him. A

misunderstanding that would have really bothered me, had I not seen

it as an opportunity to live to fight another day.

“Run!” I shouted, and with that, the Fabulous Fighters turned on

our heels and ran for our lives.

We ran for six blocks, convinced the goon was right on our heels

when, in fact, he hadn’t even bothered to chase us. We finally

stopped running in front of Little Greg’s house, and collapsed on his

front lawn. After we caught our breaths, a single thought occurred to

all of us at the same time.

“We did it!” I shouted. “We stopped that mugger cold!”

“Yeah!” Little Greg stood up and made another karate-chop gesture.

“We’re heroes!” And we all began to hoot and cheer and give each

other high-fives.

“We really showed him!” Esteban cried. “Did you see how I lured

that punk in?”

“What’s going on?” a voice sounded from behind us. It was Little

Greg’s older brother, Mike.

Before I could tell Greg not to say anything, he spilled the

beans. He told him all about the formation of the Fabulous Fighters

and how on our first mission we had saved Esteban from being mugged.

Even before he had finished, Mike was almost rolling on the ground

with laughter.

“I don’t see what’s so funny,” I said indignantly. Suddenly, Mike

stopped laughing.

“Let me tell you what’s not funny,” he said, jabbing his finger

into my chest. “It’s what I’m gonna do to you if you ever put my

brother in danger like that again!”

“Oh yeah?” I said. “You can’t tell us what to do! We’re the

Fabulous Fighters!”

“Wait here a minute,” Mike said, and walked across the street to

his house. A few minutes later, he came back with his older brothers,

Mark and Tom. Mark and Tom were laughing so hard, tears were running

down their faces.

“Allow us to introduce ourselves,” Mike said. “We’re the Fabulous

Fighter Beater- uppers.”

And with that, they beat us up. It wasn’t a horrible beating --

just enough to make us all beg for mercy and run home in tears.

It was also a big enough humiliation to put a permanent end to our

crime-fighting days. No matter how hard I tried to get the group back

together -- “We’d call ourselves the Fabulous Fighter Beater-upper

Beater-uppers!” -- no one was listening to Mr. Fabulous anymore. Soon

the entire episode passed into memory. Well, an embarrassing memory,

anyway, since Mike would tease us about it for years to come.

Eventually I got over my anger at Mike, and he and I ended up

becoming best friends. But I would never forget the days -- OK, the

one afternoon -- when my comrades and I shook off the bonds of fear

and set out to make the world safe for little kids everywhere. And to

this day, I’ll sometimes read a disturbing news report of some act of

criminal mayhem, and wistfully remember our long-ago battle cry:

“Five for one and one for five! The Fabulous Fighters have

arrived!”

* DAVID SILVA, a Burbank resident and former Leader city editor,

is an editor for Times Community News.


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